I show you a mystery - That is, a thing which you have never known before. But what is this mystery? Why, that we shall not all sleep; we shall not all die; but we shall all be changed: of this the Jews had not distinct notions. For, as flesh and blood cannot inherit glory, and all shall not be found dead at the day of judgment, then all must be changed - undergo such a change that their bodies may become spiritual, like the bodies of those who shall be raised from the dead.
Behold I show you - This commences the third subject of inquiry in the chapter, the question, what will become of those who are alive when the Lord Jesus shall return to raise the dead? This was an obvious inquiry, and the answer was, perhaps, supposed to be difficult. Paul answers it directly, and says that they will undergo an instantaneous change, which will make them like the dead that shall be raised.
A mystery - On the meaning of this word, see the note on 1 Corinthians 2:7. The word here does not mean anything which was in its nature unintelligible, but that which to them had been hitherto unknown. “I now communicate to you a truth which has not been brought into the discussion, and in regard to which no communication has been made to you.” On this subject there had been no revelation. Though the Pharisees held that the dead would rise, yet they do not seem to have made any statement in regard to the living who should remain when the dead should rise. Nor, perhaps, had the subject occupied the attention of the apostles; nor had there been any direct communication on it from the Lord Jesus himself. Paul then here says, that he was about to communicate a great truth which till then had been unknown, and to resolve a great inquiry on which there had as yet been no revelation.
We shall not all sleep - We Christians; grouping all together who then lived and should live afterward, for his discussion has relation to them all. The following remarks may, perhaps, remove some of the difficulty which attends the interpretation of this passage. The objection which is made to it is, that Paul expected to live until the Lord Jesus should return; that he, therefore, expected that the world would soon end, and that in this he was mistaken, and could not be inspired. To this, we may reply:
(1) He is speaking of Christians as such - of the whole church that had been redeemed - of the entire mass that should enter heaven; and he groups them all together, and connects himself with them, and says, “We shall not die; we Christians, including the whole church, shall not all die,” etc. That he did not refer only to those whom he was then addressing, is apparent from the whole discussion. The argument relates to Christians - to the church at large; and the affirmation here has reference to that church considered as one church that was to be raised up on the last Day.
(2) that Paul did not expect that the Lord Jesus would soon come, and that the world would soon come to an end, is apparent from a similar place in the Epistle to the Thessalonians. In 1 Thessalonians 4:15, he uses language remarkably similar to that which is used here: “We which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord,” etc. This language was interpreted by the Thessalonians as teaching that the world would soon come to an end, and the effect had been to produce a state of alarm. Paul was, therefore, at special pains to show in his Second Epistle to them, that he did not mean any such thing. He showed them 1 John 2:18 says, “It is the last time;” compare Hebrews 1:2. But the meaning of this is not that the world would soon come to an end. The prophets spoke of a period which they called “the last days” (Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1; in Hebrew, “the after days”), as the period in which the Messiah would live and reign. By it they meant the dispensation which should be the last; that under which the world would close; the reign of the Messiah, which would be the last economy of human things. But it did not follow that this was to be a short period; or that it might not be longer than any one of the former, or than all the former put together. This was that which John spoke of as the last time.
(4) I do not know that the proper doctrine of inspiration suffers, if we admit that the apostles were ignorant of the exact time when the world would close; or even that in regard to the precise period when that would take place, they might be in error. The following considerations may be suggested on this subject, showing that the claim to inspiration did not extend to the knowledge of this fact:
(a) That they were not omniscient, and there is no more absurdity in supposing that they were ignorant on this subject than in regard to any other.
(b) Inspiration extended to the order of future events, and not to the thees. There is in the Scriptures no statement of the time when the world would close. Future events were made to pass before the minds of the prophets, as in a landscape. The order of the images may be distinctly marked, but the times may not be designated. And even events which may occur in fact at distant periods, may in vision appear to be near each other; as in a landscape, objects which are in fact separated by distant intervals, like the ridges of a mountain, may appeal to lie close to each other.
(c) The Saviour expressly said, that it was not designed that they should know when future events would occur. Thus, after his ascension, in answer to an inquiry whether he then would restore the kingdom to Israel, he said Acts 1:7, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power.” See the note on that verse.
(d) The Saviour said that even he himself, as man, was ignorant in regard to the exact time in which future events would occur. “But of that day, and that hour, knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father;” Mark 13:32.
(e) The apostles were in fact ignorant, and mistaken in regard to, at least, the time of the occurrence of one future event, the death of John; John 21:23. There is, therefore, no departure from the proper doctrine of inspiration, in supposing that the apostles were not inspired on these subjects, and that they might be ignorant like others. The proper order of events they state truly and exactly; the exact time God did not, for wise reasons, intend to make known.
Shall not all sleep - Shall not all die; see the note at 1 Corinthians 11:30.
But we shall all be changed - There is considerable variety in the reading of this passage. The Vulgate reads it, “We shall all indeed rise, but we shall not all be changed.” Some Greek manuscripts read it, “We shall all sleep, but we shall not all be changed.” Others, as the Vulgate, “We shall all rise, but we shall not all be changed.” But the present Greek text contains, doubtless, the true reading; and the sense is, that all who are alive at the coming of the Lord Jesus shall undergo such a change as to fit them for their new abode in heaven; or such as shall make them like those who shall be raised from the dead. This change will be instantaneous 1 Corinthians 15:52, for it is evident that God can as easily change the living as he can raise the dead; and as the affairs of the world will then have come to an end, there will be no necessity that those who are then alive should be removed by death; nor would it be proper that they should go down to lie any time in the grave. The ordinary laws, therefore, by which people are removed to eternity, will not operate in regard to them, and they will be removed at once to their new abode.
In the lives of all who reject truth there are moments when conscience awakens, when memory presents the torturing recollection of a life of hypocrisy and the soul is harassed with vain regrets. But what are these compared with the remorse of that day when “fear cometh as desolation,” when “destruction cometh as a whirlwind”! Proverbs 1:27. Those who would have destroyed Christ and His faithful people now witness the glory which rests upon them. In the midst of their terror they hear the voices of the saints in joyful strains exclaiming: “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us.” Isaiah 25:9. GC 644.1
Amid the reeling of the earth, the flash of lightning, and the roar of thunder, the voice of the Son of God calls forth the sleeping saints. He looks upon the graves of the righteous, then, raising His hands to heaven, He cries: “Awake, awake, awake, ye that sleep in the dust, and arise!” Throughout the length and breadth of the earth the dead shall hear that voice, and they that hear shall live. And the whole earth shall ring with the tread of the exceeding great army of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. From the prison house of death they come, clothed with immortal glory, crying: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” 1 Corinthians 15:55. And the living righteous and the risen saints unite their voices in a long, glad shout of victory. GC 644.2
All come forth from their graves the same in stature as when they entered the tomb. Adam, who stands among the risen throng, is of lofty height and majestic form, in stature but little below the Son of God. He presents a marked contrast to the people of later generations; in this one respect is shown the great degeneracy of the race. But all arise with the freshness and vigor of eternal youth. In the beginning, man was created in the likeness of God, not only in character, but in form and feature. Sin defaced and almost obliterated the divine image; but Christ came to restore that which had been lost. He will change our vile bodies and fashion them like unto His glorious body. The mortal, corruptible form, devoid of comeliness, once polluted with sin, becomes perfect, beautiful, and immortal. All blemishes and deformities are left in the grave. Restored to the tree of life in the long-lost Eden, the redeemed will “grow up” (Malachi 4:2) to the full stature of the race in its primeval glory. The last lingering traces of the curse of sin will be removed, and Christ's faithful ones will appear in “the beauty of the Lord our God,” in mind and soul and body reflecting the perfect image of their Lord. Oh, wonderful redemption! long talked of, long hoped for, contemplated with eager anticipation, but never fully understood. GC 644.3Read in context »
Then Jesus’ silver trumpet sounded, as He descended on the cloud, wrapped in flames of fire. He gazed on the graves of the sleeping saints, then raised His eyes and hands to heaven, and cried, “Awake! awake! awake! ye that sleep in the dust, and arise.” Then there was a mighty earthquake. The graves opened, and the dead came up clothed with immortality. The 144,000 shouted “Alleluia!” as they recognized their friends who had been torn from them by death, and in the same moment we were changed and caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air. LS 66.1
We all entered the cloud together, and were seven days ascending to the sea of glass, when Jesus brought the crowns, and with His own right hand placed them on our heads. He gave us harps of gold and palms of victory. Here on the sea of glass the 144,000 stood in a perfect square. Some of them had very bright crowns, others not so bright. Some crowns appeared heavy with stars, while others had but few. All were perfectly satisfied with their crowns. And they were all clothed with a glorious white mantle from their shoulders to their feet. Angels were all about us as we marched over the sea of glass to the gate of the city. Jesus raised His mighty, glorious arm, laid hold of the pearly gate, swung it back on its glittering hinges, and said to us, “You have washed your robes in My blood, stood stiffly for My truth, enter in.” We all marched in and felt that we had a perfect right in the city. LS 66.2
Here we saw the tree of life and the throne of God. Out of the throne came a pure river of water, and on either side of the river was the tree of life. On one side of the river was a trunk of a tree, and a trunk on the other side of the river, both of pure, transparent gold. At first I thought I saw two trees. I looked again, and saw that they were united at the top in one tree. So it was the tree of life on either side of the river of life. Its branches bowed to the place where we stood, and the fruit was glorious; it looked like gold mixed with silver. LS 67.1Read in context »
It will only be a little while before Jesus will come to save His children and to give them the finishing touch of immortality. “This corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality.” The graves will be opened, and the dead will come forth victorious, crying, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Our loved ones who sleep in Jesus will come forth clothed with immortality. CS 350.1
And as the redeemed shall ascend to heaven, the gates of the city of God will swing back, and those who have kept the truth will enter in. A voice, richer than any music that ever fell on mortal ear, will be heard saying, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Then the righteous will receive their reward. Their lives will run parallel with the life of Jehovah. They will cast their crowns at the Redeemer's feet, touch the golden harps, and fill all heaven with rich music.—The Signs of the Times, April 15, 1889. CS 350.2Read in context »